Q&A: How Papel & Caneta's creative collective fights for change

The nonprofit includes creative minds from R/GA, Deutsch, 72andSunny, BBH and more.

Papel & Caneta in Amsterdam in August 2018
Papel & Caneta in Amsterdam in August 2018

Papel & Caneta has been using creativity to fight against issues like racism, sexual assault and gender discrimination since 2014. The collective of 350-plus advertising professionals aims to highlight how "ego-less" creativity can inspire change around the world.

Campaign US caught up with Andre Chaves, connector at Papel & Caneta, to hear what the organization has been up to recently and what’s to come. See the interview in full below.


Where did the idea for Papel & Caneta come from?
In 2014, I traveled to New York City to meet agency leaders who were fighting for change by creating work methodologies and independent projects in the face of problems about diversity, lack of women in leadership, moral and sexual assault, sexism, racism, among others. From this moment, I started asking myself: What if leaders who are lighting up new paths in the industry could get together to create something in a collective way? There are people in the industry that want to do the right thing but I believe they are still a minority.

Most people have a good heart, but they are really focused on their day to day. A few can talk a good game, but when it comes time to actually do something they're afraid. And a tiny fraction will actually put their talents behind something bigger. Therefore, the idea came up from the desire of finding people who were really committed to doing something so that, afterwards, they could work side by side. We’re at the cusp of a world that is getting more and more collaborative, where people from different places and experiences are connecting. It’s time to see leaders and creatives together at the table working on global and social causes – not just festivals.

How many members are there and are all the members part of the creative industry?
Fifteen leaders have been part of Papel & Caneta since the beginning of the project. However, each workshop has a carefully selected team to work on it. Since we have a short period of time to deliver something really outstanding, it's important to work with young people and leaders from different backgrounds, countries and skill sets who understand other realities. Over 350 creatives have become part of Papel & Caneta in the last few years, and all of them are part of the creative industry.

Can you name some of the agencies in which people work who are part of the organization?
R/GA, AKQA, Deutsch, Havas Lemz, Mori Inc Tokyo, Mr. President, BBH, SpecialGuest, BBDO, DDB, CP+B, Anomaly, 72andSunny, Mullenlowe.

What does Papel & Caneta mean?
Papel & Caneta means Paper & Pen in Portuguese. The project, then grew from the simplicity and desire to unite people so that they can meet and take a closer look at who is by their side (and less at their computer screens). Instead of taking the usual route of creating a brief and following the traditional ad agency model, the collective brings together leading ad industry creatives and activists to work alongside each other for a few days, resulting in a final project. Rather than approaching the problem for the outside looking in, all participants gain a new perspective from the raw emotion of real experience. Clients don’t exist during the workshop. Everyone sitting around the table is a maker and a true collaborator

Recently, Papel & Caneta worked on a project in the Netherlands -can you tell me more about that?
Over the course of three days (Friday to Sunday), 11 creatives came together to learn and work alongside sex workers in a workshop that took place in Amsterdam with the support of two agencies: Havas Lemz and 72andSunny. The final result is a film that will be launch in the end of October with Caviar's help, a production studio. Behind this project there are names such as: Tim Claassen (strategy director at Havas Lemz), Helene Koole (facilitator), Jessy Moussallem (one of the directors at Caviar, born and raised in Beirut), and Laura Visco (native of Argentina, currently working as creative director at 72andSunny and driving force behind Axe's global advertising).

What's the goal with the work in the Netherlands?
The goal is to show the world that sex work is work, and sex workers are workers. Thousands of people around the world suffer from the stigma and preconceptions around sex work. Even though it is completely legal in the Netherlands, sex workers still face legal, financial, and personal discrimination. Despite having the same rights and obligations, sex workers are treated as second class citizens. This massively impacts their ability to live a normal life. (And it’s even worse in other countries.) This new project aims to remove the stigma around legal sex work and challenge the public to rethink their preconceptions of a sex worker. If it’s legal, it’s legal and just a job like any other job. So if it’s work like any other, why don’t we treat the workers like any other? It’s time to come to terms with the oldest profession in the world and treat sex workers as like any other professional – with respect.

What are you most proud of so far that Papel & Caneta has accomplished?
In an industry that is becoming increasingly competitive, what makes me most proud of so far is the fact that we are making it happen on our own — without needing any returns or recognition in exchange. It's important to attend festivals and conferences to find inspiration and be recognized for their work, but how can we speak about creativity and empathy if we aren't even available to let go of some of our privilege and donate our time and resources to someone who needs our help?

Do you have an ultimate objective for the organization?
To inspire change by demonstrating the power of ego-less creativity. (ie not building our own brand, but helping others).

What's next for the group?
In 2019, Papel & Caneta will get back to NYC for another mission. By the end of October, we have to launch the project we created in Amsterdam in a way that the film can inspire many people around the world. Since P&C is a non-profit, there is no fixed team or a PR budget, so we need to focus on each challenge before we start working on a new one.

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